We are two weeks away from 44-year-old Tom Brady and the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers opening the 2021 NFL season against the Dallas Cowboys.
The final QB competitions are being decided with Week 1 on the horizon. Teddy Bridgewater beat out Drew Lock in Denver. Urban Meyer finally quit playing games and named Trevor Lawrence his starter (duh). Andy Dalton is the man in Chicago despite cries for head coach Matt Nagy to ride with rookie Justin Fields.
As for the 49ers, coach Kyle Shanahan won't announce his starter since he doesn't see a competitive advantage in doing so. However, all signs point to Jimmy Garoppolo being QB1 when the 49ers face the Detroit Lions in Week 1.
With the NFL season upon us, it's time to update the QB rankings with rookies Lawrence, Fields, Trey Lance, Mac Jones and Zach Wilson all making their first appearances. (As always, yell at me @ Schrock_And_Awe on Twitter.)
1. Patrick Mahomes
What can't he do, other than block for himself? The Kansas City Chiefs star is a surgeon from inside the pocket and can roll left or right and put the ball on a dime anywhere on the field. Despite how incredible he has been in three seasons as a starter, Mahomes is just 25 years old and should continue to improve. He should stay atop these ratings for a number of years.
2. Aaron Rodgers
The reigning MVP enjoyed his summer, hosted "Jeopardy!" and has returned for what might be his final season in Green Bay. Rodgers, 37, controls every aspect of the game and can take it over at any point. After throwing for 4,299 yards, 48 touchdowns, and just five interceptions last season, Rodgers proved he still has a lot of good football ahead of him. The only question is: Where will that football be played in 2022?
3. Tom Brady
The GOAT is 44 years old and still going strong. The ride will end eventually, but I won't be on the side getting Cold Takes Exposed if he wins ring No. 8 this season. Brady still is lethal when it matters most, and he should be even more comfortable in Bruce Arians' offense in Year 2. Bet against him at your own peril.
4. Russell Wilson
Last season, Wilson recorded career highs in pass completions, completion rate, touchdowns, and turnovers. His play tailed off in the second half of the season, and Seattle's offense didn't do him any favors. The Seahawks brought in Shane Waldron to re-tool the offense, and the hope is that he can utilize more misdirection which will allow Wilson to do more of what he does best. Could that lead to his first MVP trophy?
5. Josh Allen
Allen rounds out the top five after taking a massive leap in Year 3, throwing for 4,544 yards, 37 touchdowns and only 10 interceptions while raising his completion percentage from 58.8 percent in 2019 to 69.2 percent last season, which was good for fourth in the NFL. Add Allen's elite arm strength and mobility to his newfound accuracy and you have an elite NFL QB who should be among frontrunners for MVP. The biggest question of 2021 is: Can Allen repeat his tremendous 2020 and show it wasn't a fluke?
6. Deshaun Watson
Watson's talent is undeniable. He has the accuracy, vision, mobility, and arm strength desired in a top-level quarterback. Any discussion about how Watson could only carry the Texans' to four wins last season misses the fact that the Texans ranked eighth in offensive EPA (Expected Point Added) despite trading away DeAndre Hopkins. But the Texans ranked 31st in combined EPA on defense and special teams. Watson is an incredible player. However, it's unclear if he will see the field in 2021. Watson is facing 22 lawsuits accusing him of sexual misconduct and sexual assault. The allegations are being investigated by both the NFL and the FBI, Watson's attorney Rusty Hardin confirmed, and it is unknown when or if Watson will take the field again.
7. Matthew Stafford
After spending 12 years in Detroit, the NFL world should finally see just how good Stafford is. The combination of Stafford's arm talent with Sean McVay's play-calling should allow the Los Angeles Rams to have one of the most explosive offenses in the NFL. Durability and decision-making have been issues in the past, but this ranking is a bet that the McVay-Stafford will light the NFL on fire.
8. Lamar Jackson
You wouldn't know it by listening to every talking head on cable TV, but Lamar Jackson did win the MVP two seasons ago. No, he's not a pinpoint passer, but he still has the passing traits and elite athleticism to be an unquestioned top-10 quarterback. Jackson also is just 24 years old so he isn't a finished product as a passer, and despite any perceived warts, the NFL still hasn't figured out how to stop him. He's a game-changer.
9. Justin Herbert
I'm going to go a bit off-book here. Most people would like to see a rookie do it twice before placing him in the top-10. But I've seen all I needed to see from Herbert in a blistering Rookie of the Year performance that warmed the heart of this Duck who staunchly defended Herbert against the ridiculous pre-draft criticisms. He's an unbelievably accurate downfield thrower who excelled against pressure during his rookie season. He's got the arm talent and athleticism to make off-schedule plays that are key in today's NFL and the right mindset to handle the adversity that comes every quarterback's way. S. T. A. R.
10. Kyler Murray
I was super high on Murray heading into last season, and I'll admit, we overshot the mark by having him at No. 7. But 10 feels like the right spot for a guy with a ton of talent but something to prove in Year 3. Murray looked to be in the MVP conversation last season after his "Hail Murray" to DeAndre Hopkins delivered the Cardinals a win over the Buffalo Bills. But his stats and play faded as the year went on, with a shoulder injury pinpointed as the culprit for the downturn in play. Murray is a better pure passer than Jackson, and his athleticism allows him to overcome what is a bad offensive line and poor running game in the desert. But it would be nice to see Murray do more from inside the pocket and within the structure of the offense this season. If he can elevate his game in those areas, he will continue to rise up the rankings.
11. Dak Prescott
If you have any questions about how good Dak Prescott is, all you had to do was witness how bad the Dallas Cowboys were during the final 11 games of the 2020 season after Prescott broke his ankle. He is in complete control of the Cowboys' offense and has the weapons around him to orchestrate one of the NFL's most potent attacks.
12. Baker Mayfield
All aboard. After the Baker Hype Train was derailed in 2019, we got it back on the tracks in 2020 with new head coach Kevin Stefansky tailoring the offense more toward Mayfield's strengths. Detractors will say Mayfield is a product of a team with a good offensive line and a great supporting cast and that it helps him more than the other way around. But the Browns really took off in 2020 after Odell Beckham Jr.'s injury. If Mayfield was just a product of his supporting cast, the numbers should have dropped off with an All-Pro receiver out. They didn't. Mayfield has great accuracy and arm strength, but sometimes his vision is shaky. He needs to put together another good season to prove he belongs in the elite QB conversation and earn a contract extension.
13. Ryan Tannehill
Since arriving in Tennessee, Tannehill has been one of the most productive quarterbacks in the NFL. He has 55 touchdown passes and 11 rushing touchdowns to just 17 turnovers in that time frame. He also leads the NFL in yards per attempt over that span. But Tannehill has been the benefactor of Tennessee's run-heavy offense, with defenses having to load up to stop Derrick Henry. Tannehill has become a great decision-maker in Tennessee, but can he do it without offensive coordinator Arthur Smith?
14. Joe Burrow
In 11 games before going down with a knee injury, Burrow showed he has all the makings of a future star if the Bengals don't Bengal it up. The 2019 Heisman Trophy winner has elite accuracy, good elusiveness, can keep his eyes downfield while moving, and has the toughness, swagger, and confidence you want in a quarterback leading your franchise. Now, about that offensive line.
15. Matt Ryan
Does Matty Ice have one last run in him? Having Arthur Smith and rookie Kyle Pitts should help. Losing Julio Jones? Not so much. Can Ryan have similar success as Tannehill in Smith's system? Maybe, but there's no Henry in the ATL and Ryan can't extend plays with his legs the way Tannehill can. The sun is setting on a Falcons (and Boston College) legend.
16. Derek Carr
For all the heat Carr takes, he has been a solid NFL starting quarterback over the past three seasons. He is incredibly accurate and throws a tremendous deep ball. The problem with Carr arises when the pocket shrinks and gets sped up, but when the pocket is clean, Carr has the ability to dice up almost any defense. But was the 2020 version of Carr (4,103 yards, 27 touchdowns and nine interceptions) the best we will get?
17. Trevor Lawrence
The first rookie is on the board. The No. 1 overall pick is the most complete quarterback prospect since Andrew Luck, and has done nothing in the preseason to make anyone doubt those comparisons. Lawrence has all the tools to be one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL, but the Jaguars have to find a way to keep him upright and healthy behind a putrid offensive line.
18. Jimmy Garoppolo
When healthy and on the field, Garoppolo has been a top-level quarterback for Kyle Shanahan and the 49ers. When Garoppolo has started, the 49ers have had a top-five offense in terms of EPA. The problem is that he has only played in more than six regular-season games once in his career. He has a good feel for the game and functions well in Shanahan's offense, but he has a clear ceiling on what he can be. That being said, I think 10 teams would line up tomorrow to add Garoppolo to their QB room.
19. Kirk Cousins
Cousins is a good quarterback within the structure of the play. He works well in the bootleg action, flipping his hips quickly to make on-time and accurate throws in the short and intermediate areas. But he struggles when there is pressure in his and cannot make the off-schedule throws that are key in today's NFL.
20. Mac Jones
The rest of the heralded rookie class is going to come in a flurry here. Keep in mind the rankings are based on who I think is ready to help a team win now. If it were based on upside or a five-year projection, they would be different and I would have Jones ranked behind Justin Fields and possibly Trey Lance, quarterbacks who have a higher ceiling if everything works in their favor. I have loved what I have seen from Jones in the preseason, and I think he will end up winning the job over Cam Newton. Jones has shown the accuracy and quick processing that was his calling card at Alabama. With Josh McDaniels pulling strings, Jones can get the Patriots back on the map.
21. Justin Fields
The Bears are going to start Andy Dalton because ... well, that's unclear. Fields has elite arm talent, rare athleticism and the ability to make high-level, off-platform throws that can actually give the Bears a pulse on offense. He should start from Day 1, but Matt Nagy has other ideas.
22. Zach Wilson
The early practice struggles appear to be just that. Wilson contended he was using practice to figure out what he can and can't get away with at the NFL level. In the preseason games, albeit against mainly second-string defenses, Wilson has been spectacular and it's clear he is in good hands with Mike LaFleur running the offense. The Jets won't be ready to contend in 2021, and Wilson is likely to struggle, but he's got all the tools to finally bring the Jets out of the NFL wasteland.
23. Trey Lance
Lance has done a lot of impressive stuff during training camp and the preseason. He'll have a role in the 49ers' offense whether he starts or not. While the rookie still is working on fine-tuning his mechanics, it's clear he could start right away and likely lead the 49ers to the playoffs. He has a Mahomes-like quality that is hard to find. The top-level athleticism paired with a rocket arm and high football IQ allows Shanahan to do things with Lance he can't with Garoppolo. However, Lance's minus-18.2 percent completion percent over expectation is a tad troubling, as it means Shanahan has dialed up open receivers and Lance hasn't been able to convert. The seven drops also haven't helped. This might be a bit low, and I won't be surprised if the year-end ranking has Lance in the top 15 if he starts from the get-go.
24. Ben Roethlisberger
Big Ben looked cooked toward the end of last season. He needs help at this stage of his career. Perhaps Matt Canada's offense can help make life easier, but the glory days are long gone.
25. Jameis Winston
Famous got LASIK and now gets to prove he can still be an NFL starter in New Orleans. Last time we saw Winston as a starter, he threw for 5,109 yards, 33 touchdowns and 30 interceptions for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Since 2015, Winston leads the NFL with a 3.4 percent interception rate. Will a lower-risk offense help bring the best out of Jameis? Or will it only lower his ceiling if he can't take a lot of shots down the field?
26. Jared Goff
What is Jared Goff? He put up good numbers with Sean McVay running the show with the Rams. But McVay soured on him quickly and now he finds himself in one of the worst situations in football looking to prove he can still be a Super Bowl-caliber starting QB. I have my doubts.
27. Carson Wentz
Wentz was a trainwreck during his final season in Philadelphia. He took too many sacks, made awful decisions, and found himself being shipped to Indianapolis this summer. The hope is that a reunion with former offensive coordinator Frank Reich will help turn Wentz back into the QB that was an MVP frontrunner a few years ago. But I don't think he was ever that good.
28. Ryan Fitzpatrick
The Fitzmagic just won't end. Fitzpatrick was solid last year as the Miami Dolphins' starter before being yanked midway through the season for Tua Tagovailoa. Now 39, Fitzpatrick isn't going to light up the scoreboard, but if he doesn't turn the ball over then he could have a successful season in Washington.
29. Jalen Hurts
Hurts showed enough in the final four games of the regular season for the Eagles to give a chance to prove he can be their long-term future at quarterback. The arm strength is there but the accuracy and touch weren't. Perhaps new head coach Nick Sirianni can find ways to take advantage of Hurts' strengths as he improves his accuracy. Hurts is a winner, but can he will himself to NFL success?
30. Tua Tagovailoa
I'll be the first to admit this could be way too low if the buzz out of Dolphins camp is legitimate. But I didn't like what I saw from the Alabama product last season, especially with his inability to pick apart what was a horrific Raiders defense. While he is accurate, it's unclear if he has the elite arm talent needed to be a consistently good starting QB.
31. Sam Darnold
How much of the poor start to Darnold's NFL career was a product of Adam Gase and the New York Jets, and how much was on the USC product? We're about to find out. If Darnold can't right the ship with Joe Brady running the show, it might be curtains for his starting prospects.
32. Teddy Bridgewater
Vic Fangio named Bridgewater the starter because he was the safer option. Bridgewater isn't anything spectacular and he doesn't have a high ceiling. The arm talent isn't there anymore, but he is capable of distributing the ball and won't take unnecessary risks. That's all Fangio can ask for.
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